Navy visits East Carolina with eye on AAC West title
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) Only one thing stands between Navy and a division title – an East Carolina team that the Midshipmen have dominated on the road.
Navy will clinch the American Athletic Conference's West Division with a victory over the struggling Pirates on Saturday.
First-year East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery says he's using his team's spoiler status as motivation.
''We're going to try to pull motivation from everywhere we can get it from,'' Montgomery said.
After beating Tulsa last week , the Midshipmen (7-2, 5-1) need only to beat East Carolina (3-7, 1-5) or SMU next week to wrap up the division title and a spot in the American's title game on Dec. 3.
Beating the Pirates hasn't exactly been much of a problem in Greenville: Navy has won both visits here by scores of 76-35 in 2010 and 56-28 two years later, averaging 516 yards rushing in those blowouts.
And while Navy's scheme remains the same, coach Ken Niumatalolo says those results don't mean anything this year.
''I don't know the reason – we happened to play well those games,'' Niumatalolo said. ''It's a new year, new game, new team, new coach. … Everything's different. I mean, we can't look at that. I'm sure they're not looking at it. The past is the past.''
The present has been rough for Montgomery in his first season as a head coach. The Pirates have lost two straight and seven of eight, and are coming off a 55-31 loss to SMU . East Carolina ranks 124th nationally in turnover margin, with 22 giveaways to just eight takeaways.
''Those are definitely things we are going to have to clean up if we're going to move forward with everything that we're trying to get done,'' Montgomery said.
Some other things to know about the Navy-East Carolina game:
NAVY'S OFFENSE: With their triple-option, ball-control offense, the Midshipmen always seem to rank among the nation's best teams on the ground. Navy is fourth nationally – but behind the other two service academies – with an average of nearly 310 yards rushing. ''This is going to be a possession game,'' Montgomery said. ''We can slow the game down, and we can speed the game up, but it comes down to possessions.''
ZAY DAY: East Carolina WR Zay Jones leads the nation in yards receiving (1,473) and receptions (139) – and enters the Navy game needing just eight catches to break the NCAA career record held by a former Pirates teammate, Justin Hardy, who caught 380 passes from 2011-14. ''It's conflicting to start with because this isn't where we want to be,'' Montgomery said. ''There are a lot of things that we want to do better. In the middle of it all, I see the shining light that Zay has been in. I know it's been tough for him and it's especially tough when you're a senior.''
MIDS' HEALTH: Niumatalolo says starting CB Elijah Merchant (head) is doubtful, RB Calvin Cass (ankle) is probable and FB Chris High (ankle) remains questionable. High, whose 71 carries are second only to QB Will Worth (215), started the first eight games but missed the Tulsa game.
FULL OR HALF NELSON? Montgomery says QB Philip Nelson has been dealing with shoulder tenderness. Nelson was 11 of 19 for 144 yards with two interceptions, one returned 70 yards for a touchdown, in the loss to SMU. Gardner Minshew replaced him and was 18 of 30 for 170 yards with a touchdown and also threw a pick-six.
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